Saturday, June 30, 2007

Oldie but Goodie, number 1

This is the first of several entries that came from my pre-blog emails, documenting my very beginning days in Edinburgh. I'm choosing to republish these (as Oldie, but Goodie) for two reasons: I want all my Life in these British Isles writings to be compiled in one place and sometimes when I can't think of anything new to say, I'll pull out one of these bad boys. It's a bit odd to republish this one in particular, as it's about the winter weather and winter clothing. But since it's cold as fuck here now, pissing it down every other hour, you might see some sort of connection and forgive my seasonal discrepency. This was first published on the 5th of December, 2004. Enjoy.

Ok, look. I want to debunk this myth once and for all, so please read the following very carefully people: It really isn't very cold here in Edinburgh. No, I am not lying to you to ensure your visit; it's true. According to the BBC website, in Edinburgh it was 11° C (51° F) and sunny on Thanksgiving. In Raleigh/Durham, the National Weather Service website says it was going to be 58° F. Not that big of a difference, so stop the madness people!

But I shall admit this: it is windy. Or, as said in the American south, windy as all get out. It's because Edinburgh is very close to the sea. Go to Wilmington, NC, or any other coastal town, and you'll know what I'm talking about. The wind can be biting here, but I am not as affected by it as I was my first winter. That is all down to my new layering techniques.

Last winter's layering techniques, in a word: primitive. It was all about warmth and not about fashion. I was the Michelin man, and I didn't care. But I'm rectifying that this year.

The first two layers are new to this winter season, but essential. The first: hair. Yes, I have not shaved my legs in the past eight weeks, and will probably not do so until June. The question has to be addressed about the effect on one's bedroom life. There might be repercussions, but think of the all-day warmth provided by hair, whereas the other warmth has a limited span. The second essential layer is a bra. Yes, the girl that didn't even wear a bra to her own wedding actually wears one EVERY DAY. The cold, sadly, will make you reconsider your principles.

Next layers are all about your legs. After a good furry growth, consider wool tights, which are much better than thermals on a normal windy day. Here, I can only find woollen tights at John Lewis and they are ₤11! That's a lot of knicker, but well worth it. The thinness of the tights mean you can wear them underneath clothing without appearing strangely bulky. On abnormally windy days, thermals and wool tights might be an option for the faint-hearted. On lightly windy days, I suggest the leg warmer. The leg warmer, that delightfully naff 80s memorabilia, is actually a quite useful object of warmth -- they can be easily shed if too warm (carefully, however, since you don't want startle others with the sight of leg fur). Shyer wearers can hide them under trousers, while the bolder and more experimental of us can attempt them as a bit of ironic outerwear. Obviously, sans the Flashdance-off-the-shoulder top, which is just OTT in this day and age (over the top – get with the lingo chickies!). Finish with thermal or wool socks, or just two pairs of regular socks.

With your legs good and warm, time to think of upper wear. I highly recommend camisoles. My mother is, without a doubt, giving herself congratulatory pats on the back with this bit of my advice. I was first introduced to the camisole by my mother, along with the pettipants, as a required piece of underclothing. Depending on the day and my level of obedience, I wore up to five pieces of underclothing as a child! (That is a bra, camisole, panties, slip and pettipants.) Despite my mother's attempts at reviving Victorian dress, she is right about a camisole. However, the modern and sassy girl might wear a cotton version over her long-sleeved or three-quarter length shirt, just to add a bit of interest. Another way to add interest and warmth is to wear two shirts. If you don't want to look like a mad foreign exchange student, just two rules: 1) Let it seen that you have two shirts on, which will explain the bulk to people. Some examples: outer shirt has a three-quarter length sleeve, while the inner has a longer sleeve; outer shirt is a button up with rolled up sleeves and a longer sleeved inner shirt; outer shirt has a scoop neckline, while the other has a higher neckline; 2) the inner shirt must be thinner than the outer shirt. Trust me, it will be trés chic. Additional chic upper wear to be considered are the cardigan and the neckerchief, though the latter is not for anything but a very lightly windy day.

Of course you will end your ensemble with your coat, scarf, hat (truly optional, since it can lead to the despaired hat-hair) and gloves. Remember those aforementioned leg warmers? Can be used has arm and hand warmers, worn over the forearms. I bet Jennifer Beals never did that, but then again, she probably never lived in Edinburgh either.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dilemma sorted, morals not

Last night in the news I saw a large group of journalists paying tribute to fellow reporter Alan Johnston kidnapped 100 days ago by releasing 100 white balloons. It reminded me of a balloon release we had at my school in second grade, I think, to commemorate the end of a fête of some sort. The balloons floated away, becoming colourful dots in the sky to the jubilant cheers of hundreds of children, messages of peace and hope attached. It is my lasting memory of that school year. But we weren't to have it the following year. When I questioned why, my teacher replied that it was environmentally damaging, littering our planet and harmful to animals. This was 1984.

Last week, as you know I had a bit of a moral and ethical dilemma going on. The advice, given via the comments section and email replies, seemed to fall along nationality lines. My American people were telling me to get in there, stand up for this injustice and not to tolerate it. As one friend put it, "YOU are not British and you DO care." The Brits, on the other hand, mostly advocated softly, softly approach, mostly expected.

After talking to the union representative and, more importantly, Boy, I realised my position was terribly flawed. My stance, though I didn't think so, was based on hearsay. And despite my esteemed opinion of Sam, my HT does have the right to hire who he likes. Shit, he hired me and, as I found later, I wasn't the most experienced person for the job. So then why did he hire me? I like to think that he saw something in me, and maybe that's what he saw in Terry, whether that's true or not. That's the hirer's prerogative.

I'm at peace with my revised position about this situation -- I do believe its right. But what I still feel unease about is the idea that many of my peers felt, like me, that injustice was occurring, and that no-one was willing to do more than murmur about it. The status quo and a blind eye lives too comfortably in British society, at times.

I don't mean to criticise a touching tribute when I related the story of the balloon release for the held reporter, but I led this entry with it as it, to me, illustrates something about British society and culture. An action so environmentally unfriendly that my 80s American primary school banned it has just gone on. Brits would probably be irritated by my words, as this is supposed to be a nice gesture and nice gestures, no matter how ridiculous, do not get criticised. Well, they might as well have thrown some old styrofoam takeaway containers, plastic drinks cups and carrier bags from their cars to honour their colleague. But if you saw the streets of Edinburgh, knew that the UK had the lowest rate of recycling in Europe, then you would realise that that wasn't such an extreme comment.

There are so many progressive things happening in the UK, things that are foundational of British culture: some aspects of the political system; the healthcare system; the high standard of (most of the) journalism and news reporting. But then this bedrock gets strewn with our litter of injustice, which we accept. Most gratefully.

Friday, June 22, 2007


While I'm online, minding my own business, my sister calls me on Skype. She insists on talking to me as she's minding her husband's niece. Though amusing, she annoyingly chooses to read an Elmo story while I'm on the Skype phone. So I recorded it. I guess this is good practice for her as she actually wants to do that crazy spawning thing.

The very first bit is the funniest. I promise.

powered by ODEO

If you can't hear it, which is inevitable with Odeo, then try clicking this link.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Moral dilemma

If you had bother to join twitter when you got your invitation, you might be up on the happenings. You would have seen the following entry:

There is some absolutely heinous
and unethical shit going down at work.

So let me tell you the story.

This year at my school, we had two teachers in their first, probationary year. To be completely truthful, there was one I liked more than another. I've gone into Sam's classroom and seen a thoughtful, empathetic, earnest teacher -- in a few years, Sam was going to be a very good teacher. I can't say the same of Terry, who's class I worked in as well. Terry is "very by the book", organised, but doesn't have any passion for teaching. Let's just say I know who I'd want my children to be taught by: Sam.

Well, a temporary teaching position came up, which could be filled by either Sam or Terry. Under the Scottish probationers scheme, Sam and Terry would be out of a job at the end of the school year, their positions to be given to other NQTs (nearly qualified teachers). So how would it be decided whom to hire? Our headteacher (HT) was keeping his cards close to his chest. And the memo detailing assignments for next year were handed out; Terry had the position.

I was gutted for Sam. I, and some of my colleagues, felt Sam deserved more as Sam was clearly the better teacher. But why hadn't Sam been hired? Rumours were swirling: Terry only obtained the position due to luck. Luck? The luck of Terry's name being pulled from a hat. This can't be true, I thought. But it wasn't a rumour: the name pulling had been confirmed by another teacher, who had been in on it.

Right now, I want to report my HT to the union, who would definitely take up the case. I do think it is the right thing to do. But I have reservations. One, I don't think I'm ready to deal with the repercussions on my career, short- and long-term, if it came out that I did this. And two, why should I do this? This isn't my problem and it has bugger all to do with me. There's a definite British attitude that you "keep yourself to yourself" and that you don't butt into business that has nothing to do with you. If he was to be reported, it should be by the union representative from our school, not me. Plus -- a big plus that I have to face, even if I don't want to -- would I be this indignant, this self-righteous, if the one hired had been Sam, the "right man" for the job? Honestly, I'd probably not thought any more than, Oh, that's a shame for Terry, and I wouldn't have gone to my union, lest to ruin it for Sam. So this is not entirely not out of moral outrage, but out of outrage for an injured friend.

But on the other hand... I'm ashamed and angry at my HT. He took advantage of his position of authority and trust. Shit, he might as well had been some sort of paedophile, as these people looked up to him and they were in vulnerable positions, needing a job and being completely inexperienced with employment situations like this. They wouldn't have dared to question the pulling of names from a hat; it probably wouldn't have even crossed their minds to question the situation. I know it wouldn't have if it were me, and it's been nine years since I started teaching. In a way, this part of the argument for reporting him has little to do with the action, but the attitude of my HT. He took advantage of his position and lied about it when confronted by others. Oh yes, did I mention that he was confronted by my school's union rep?

I have other reasons for wanting this to be reported. It's unethical and, I think, illegal what the HT did. All positions have to be advertised, even if the interview process is a formality as someone who has worked in the school is been promised the position. That's the way it is, the policy of my district. And he said that Terry's name was pulled from a hat, but who was there to witness this? Was there some sort of independent adjudicator?

Let me share this aside, which I promise as a point. On the very last day of school one year (early in my teaching career), a fellow teacher wanted to observe me teaching a lesson, an observation that she should have conducted earlier in the school year, something she hadn't gotten around to. I was shocked and felt cornered, but somehow came up with a lesson for this woman to see. When I told my friend Helene this story, she went absolutely crazy. That's completely inappropriate, she roared, and marched me down to the principal's office and made me tell my story. And was I ever grateful she did that. I didn't have the experience to know to do that. And I certainly didn't have the cajones to do it on my own. I tell this story because it reminds me of the Terry and Sam's situation, and I feel that it's my turn to take the Helene role: to take Sam and Terry's hands, march them down and demand justice and to be heard. But I don't want to do this just for their sake; I want to do it for all sorts of injustice going on at my school. I want it to be known that this -- and things like this -- will not be tolerated. To let it be known that I won't let him do anything like that to me.

So I'm sorry for the long entry, but I don't know what to do . I really need to hear from you -- now, more than ever. Please let me know how you think I should proceed.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


In my blog, Turning over a new leaf, I documented my first ever vegetables grown. Well, we did eat the argula (rocket) in a salad, along with some chives, mint and sage that we are growing. The spring onions (aka, scallions, green onions, salad onions) were incorporated into an egg casserole and was damn tasty. Unfortunately, I am finding the gardending bit of it tedious and boring and snails seem to like my shit. I'm considering collecting up all the snails and eating them, like escargo, much to the disgust of the Boy.


I told you the tale of a young Dundonian man in Bladar who, at least to me, looked Black. My team-mates completely disagreed with me. I explained that I recognised that he wasn't Black Black, that he wasn't -- which has now become infamous in its phraseology -- FOB, fresh off the boat.

While I was in Perth for the volleyball tournament, I saw this guy, looking as Black as ever. I took my chance and moseyed on over to him to have a chat. Suffice to say that after our positive conversation (in which he himself admitted that he had been thought of as Black as well), I asked him to join the Brotherhood and renamed him Tyreek. The brother formally known as Graeme thanked me and is looking forward to his Black Brotherhood membership card any day now.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

If I can't see it...

At one point, my uni room-mate had a hair-do that looked as if some had attached one of those fans geishas carry. Though adventurous, on a good day the best description would have been "absurd". When I pointed out that the style created an unfortunate bald spot, Renaye replied, to my disbelief, "If I can't see it, it don't exist."

Well, today, I'm a believer. A variety of factors -- the warm weather, losing a few pounds, not really having much more to wear -- has led me to pull outand wear my city shorts. A staple of summer 2006, wearing last season isn't necessarily my huge crime. What it is is that I have not shaved my legs. I insist to myself that no-one notices the stubble. But then why did my 6-year-old pupil, Steed, continually rub his leg against mine today during our lesson?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Turning over a new leaf

I am a bit sad to say that, despite my grandparents' work as farmers, I never have grown anything in my life. There is a big "back to the Earth" movement going on with kids my age and I, as a follower, am embracing it. This movement includes trying to buy locally to reduce the "air miles" of food; buying fresh; composting your waste;and even growing your own food.

Boy and I pretty much have embraced the first two on the list, even though it means having to do without some foods and guiltily eating others (like citrus -- the air miles on citrus are horrible). After a disastrous spell with vermicomposting (composting, but with worms -- poor buggers bit the dust), I doubted my ability to grow anything. Boy's father, FIL, has grown his own fruit and vegetables for probably more than 30 years. His advice -- to bung some seeds in the ground -- was too bold for a novice like me.

It was my friend Shish who finally gave me a leg up. She runs the school garden and has the loveliest garden round the side of her flat. One weekend when Boy was away, she showed up at mine with a shovel, a fork, a spade and two rubbish bins and said that we were going to make a bed. It was exactly what I needed. I was such a beginner that I came out to the garden with my overalls and Wellington boots (a bit of overkill). We worked for an hour and cleared away the overgrowth of clover and grass.

At the garden centre, Shish tried to steer me to the flowers and plants, her speciality. There was no way I was going to put out all that effort for some stupid flowers! Quickly, she realised my aim (my stomach) and we decided on cauliflower, rocket (arugula), strawberries, and green onions (scallions). Every night for more than two weeks, in my wellies (which wasn't necessary but made me feel more like a proper gardener) I dutifully took the water can Shish gave me down the two flights of steps to the back garden to water my plant-lets.

When FIL came for a visit this weekend, I proudly took him down to my little patch to show it off. Like a father, he told me that practically everything I was wrong (cauliflower too close together, rocket and green onions too far apart) -- well, that's what it felt like! But... the rocket and onions were ready -- and weren't too shabby. He had the first of the crop for a sandwich.

And we'll be eating the rest in an baked Polish omelet and salad with some creamy lemon vinaigrette.

1 bunch scallions, sliced
1 clove minced garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons rye flour
(I just use whole wheat flour)
1 1/2 ounces milk
2/3 cup sour cream
4 eggs beaten
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons melted butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup cooked chopped spinach
2 red peppers, small dice
6 ounces crumbled feta cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Saute scallions and garlic in oil and place on the bottom of an oiled 8-inch casserole. Mix flour, milk, sour cream and eggs and herbs, butter and seasoning. Place vegetables in casserole. Pour egg mixture on top and cover with crumbled feta. Bake 40 to 45 minutes

1 handful fresh mint
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1 tablespoon hot water
1 lemon, juiced
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon creme fraiche
(you can use soured cream)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Wash and dry the shoots and mint, place in a large bowl.
In a mason jar, combine the mustard, water, lemon juice, oil, creme fraiche, sugar, salt, and pepper. Put the cap on and shake vigorously to emulsify. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the greens and toss well to coat. Serve immediately. Store any remaining vinaigrette in the jar in the refrigerator.

Friday, June 01, 2007


If you believe relationship experts, the top five things couples argue over are money; sex; work; children and; housework. Thankfully, as Boy and I have no children, we are not arguing over the bairns. And for us, we can score housework off the list of potential arguments. I have found my soul-mate, in terms of housework: we both avoid as much as possible.

But we more than make up for it with our (figurative) knock-down, drag-out rows over money. He thinks I'm a spendthrift; I think he's too tight at times. Great combo, eh? What probably has made the situation worse is the way we handle money. Despite our attitudes to money, we combine our income in a joint pool. Our money happened quite from the beginning and we believe in it so much that scoff at other couples that don't do it: obviously we are committed to each other -- properly -- because we share everything, including the money. Ah, the logic of the self-righteous.

However, this leads to rows when Boy, although concerned about what is being spent, is inattentive about outgoings. Then at the end of the month wants to know where all the ducats are, particularly what I spent. I always object to the line-item retelling as insulting, as he should been paying attention before. He insists on knowing, while I rage, insulted. And the hilarious circle begins.

But after only four years of marriage people, we are combating this issue. We are giving each other an allowance to spend on what we like. There -- no more arguments. Or so we thought. What about Boy's driving lessons? They will benefit me, so the joint account should pay for it, he reasons. (We won't get into the fact that he failed his first test, facilitating a £150+ bill for additional lessons and testing) And my Master's work will benefit the house, as I will, by the time I get my degree, be making thousands more a year.

And this issue hadn't been considered: I bought some resources for work out of my own allowance, spending at least five-eighths of my monthly money. I knew it was dear, but I had been wanting these books and so I purchased them. "You reaslise this money has to last you to the end of the month." Aye. "And you get no more money." Yes. "What could you possibly have spent all that money on?" It was the first time I didn't have to give a line-item account and it felt good.